Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Pigeon Forge

Up Side Down Wonderworks Dinner Theater, home of The Hoot n' Holler show, as well as other attractions and exhibits.

Full scale Titanic, complete with iceberg and water breaking around the bow.

When we arrived here yesterday evening we were both taken back by the commercialization of this area. We've been to a number of tourist areas over the years but this place beats them all. The route from the interstate south to The Great Smoky Mountain National Park has ways of separating visitors from their money like I've never seen before. These include a wedding chapel, bungee jumping, shindig & hillybilly theme restaurants, The Titanic, helicopter rides, lumberjack dinner theater, laser maze, comedy clubs, zip lines, magic shows, camel rides, Dollywood, Dolly water park, Dolly Stampede plus all the usual attractions like miniature golf, go-carts, outlet stores, etc., etc., etc.

Despite the rain we headed south this morning through this gauntlet of excessive consumption, to the Smoky Mountain park entrance in Gatlinburg. Inside the visitor center we enjoyed a 20 minute movie on the history of the Smokies as well as an outstanding museum. The museum exhibited examples of the trees, plants, mammals, reptiles, birds and insects indigenous to the Park. The rain only got heavier but we ventured up the mountain anyway where we saw hundreds of seasonal tributaries rushing down the mountain side to feed The Little Pigeon River.

Before leaving this morning we had put some short ribs in the crock pot which were ready when we got home. Yummy! We are very happy with our site here at Creekside campground and expect to stay here 4 nights. I'll be adding some photos tomorrow when the rain stops.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Creekside RV Park

This morning we left Roanoke behind and traveled 236 miles to Creekside RV Park here in Pigeon Forge, TN. This was our longest days drive so far, but it was easy thanks to light traffic, good roads and perfect weather. We added $169 in diesel fuel to our tank but it only cost us $69 thanks to the gift card Martha's co-workers gave us before we left home. Thank you everyone at The Goddard School! We actually got off to a frustrating start when we woke up to both frozen water and sewer lines. While I wasn't surprised by the frozen fresh water line the frozen 3" sewer hose was not what I expected. It was 26 degrees this morning, only 2 degrees colder than the prior morning when we had no problems, so why all the ice? Once we got things defrosted we agreed to take the hoses in when cold snaps are predicted and not take chances again; we're still learning the ropes so a lesson earned is a lesson learned. Despite the rough start our day ended with the perfect campsite here in Tennessee; good bye ghetto campground Roanoke.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Travel Plans

5-4-3-2-1 take off! Doesn't Charlie look like she's ready to fly? Actually it was very windy here today and a big gust of wind lifted her ears just as I snapped this photo of her and her cousin, Cooper.

Up until now our travel plans have been loosely predetermined by the family members here on the East Coast that we wanted to spend time with. Today we move back into the motorhome and finalize our decision to head south or west to avoid the colder weather ahead this winter. Though we both want to explore Florida as well as Georgia and Alabama a couple things are compelling us to head west. During our stay here for Thanksgiving we learned that our son, Zach, is definitely being deployed to Afghanistan in February where he'll be for the next year. So, our plan now is to head 500 miles west to the Nashville area so we can spend more time with him as well as see Fort Campbell, his home for nearly the past year. Since we don't do anything in a hurry anymore, we will also be taking a side trip to The Great Smoky Mountains National Park along the way. We so enjoyed The Shenandoah National Park we feel we shouldn't just drive by a National Park when we are so close.

The other reason we chose west over south is that my older sister in Arizona is not doing so well so it's important to spend some time with her now. She is the only sibling I have left from my childhood family of five. Southern Arizona is a great snow bird location and it is sooo so different from Connecticut that we'll be like kids in a candy store.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Downtown Roanoke

Yesterday we visited the O. Winston Link Museum here in downtown Roanoke. Link was an American photographer best known for his black and white photography of the lasts days of steam locomotive railroading on the Norfolk & Western in the United States in the late 1950s. You don't have to be a photographer or train buff to enjoy this exhibit; we highly recommend this museum if you are in the area. Click here to view some of his exciting photographs Link Images.

Museum entrance

The Christmas tree in front of the Hotel Roanoke.

Tracks of the Norfolk and Western Railway and the Art Museum of Western Virginia.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Roanoke Virginia

For the next few days we will be putting our gypsy life style on hold while we spend time with family over the Thanksgiving holiday. We are parking Dessy in the storage lot here and packing our bags to spend time with family in their sticks and brick home here in Roanoke. Our son, Army Specialist Zach, will being driving in from Fort Campbell, Tennessee to join us. Charlie too will be enjoying time with her dog cousins, Beckett and Cooper Singleton; two very handsome Shelties.

Charlie celebrated her tenth birthday last week and has apparently been granted her birthday wish to become a couch potato. The little love seat on our right side is no longer available for human use.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

The Tiny O Ring that Crippled the 14 ton Beast

On Wednesday when we got to the Great Meadow Camp Ground I noticed that the Jetta’s front end was covered with black oily spots and grime the likes of which I hadn’t seen before. Was this just diesel engine exhaust crud due to the steep grade we just climbed or was it the start of something more serious? After I found a bit of oil beneath the engine I checked the dipstick several times only to find that it was O.K. However that “what’s up” feeling continued to nag at me, though I put it off until we were ready to leave the park on Saturday. Once it was time to leave I hooked up the car, checked the oil and headed onward with the intention of stopping often to look at the leak and check the operation of the newly installed Brake Buddy.

By the time we got down to Shenandoah valley the Jetta was covered with oil and an 8" puddle appeared as soon as we shut down the motor. Do we risk continuing on 125 miles to Roanoke where there is a Freightliner dealer and family to stay with while our home is in the shop, or do we change our plans and stay where we are until this is sorted out? Driving the rig in this condition is too great a cause for anxiety so we made the latter option plan "A".

Thanks to a good Verizon signal and an excellent referral we were able to find a knowledgeable diesel mechanic who specialized in road side service. After waiting on the shoulder for a couple hours, Richard the mobile mechanic, who cancelled his deer hunting plans for that afternoon, arrived with his apprentice (his talented daughter) and large trailer filled with tools and parts. It didn't take him long to diagnose the problem as a leaking high pressure (2700 psi!) oil line. The good news was that he could fix it here on the spot; the bad news was that the floor under our bed had to be removed to get to the top of the motor. Uh- oh, If you've been reading this blog for long you know we've had trouble letting go of certain favorite pieces of furniture. A bookcase, grandfather's clock, coffee table, etc. are all packed into the bedroom and had to be be removed first. This furniture is becoming less favorite all the time. In another couple of weeks it may well be downright hated (BTW the grandfathers clock met with an unfortunate accident and is now a two piece grandfathers clock). Getting back to the oil leak; all is fine now thanks to a small "O" ring and we were on our way to Roanoke by 4:30pm.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Big Meadow Campground

Thanks to Kenny and Angela for all the info on the Osage-orange tree.

We are so happy we decided to dry camp two nights in the Big Meadow campground; the only campground open on the Skyline Drive this time of year. The place was practically empty making us think that off season sightseeing may become a regular part of our plans. When we started to register for two nights the camp Ranger urged us to try one night first thinking we might not enjoy the cold weather. We did see a few snow flakes and it was 29 degrees the next morning according to our thermometer or 19 degrees as reported by the camp host. It was 48 degrees inside our RV when we got up but we've hardened off to the point that temperatures less than the 68 degree norm don't bother us any more (at least not in our flannel jammies).

It fit, with room to spare! I think this was about the point we lost our Verizon service, and with all the lodges closed there was no wi-fi either. No internet, ugh, this was the greatest hardship we've endured so far.

3700 feet is only a bump compared to the Rockies but it felt like we were on top of the world.

Until the weekend came, with its hoard of campers, we saw this herd regularly wandering around the park. There was a great lone buck as well.

We hiked three different trails during our short stay. The waterfall at the end of Dark Hollow Falls Trail is well worth the steep climb back to the trail head.

The waterfall is 70 feet high and cascades down several tiers. The sun sat just above it at about 1:00pm; it must be even more beautiful in the winter.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Shenandoah National Park

What kind of tree is this? When we pulled into the first parking area in the Shenandoah Park it looked like we were driving through a farmers' discarded broccoli. It turned out that the fruit or nut of this tree was falling off and rolling across the parking area. I wouldn't want to get hit in the head with one of these

We saw many deer including this buck who let us take his picture. Quite the pose-what a show off!

Tomorrow we'll see if the RV fits through this tunnel.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Water always a Surprise

With about 3 weeks and 4 RV parks into our new life we have experienced four different water supplies. The present is most notable because the water is so soft and the pressure is so high. Back in Connecticut we had hard as nails well water but today I took my shower in water so soft I had to be careful not to slip in the shower. When we first hooked up here I noticed the pressure was higher than what we have experienced before. This turned out to be not such a good thing as we woke up to some water on the kitchen floor due to a leaking ice maker. Once I cleaned up the water and tightened the loose ice maker fitting the leaking stopped. One good thing about an RV is that you can get to the back side of your refrigerator from outside the RV; how cool is that? The one thing you can't do is replace your refrigerator without removing your windshield or some other expensive thing but we don't need to go there today. After this I installed a pressure regulator and everything seems to be A.O.K. for now.

Monday, November 15, 2010

An Easy Project Today

This is the metal frame to a 20" x 48" folding table we used all summer at Sylvan Lake. Although it was the perfect size for our gas grill and two burner camp stove the original masonite and vinyl covered top wasn't meant to be used outdoors. It continued to soak up water and sag until I was ready to throw it in the dumpster by summers end. Camping World has a good selection of tables for this purpose but none of the reviews were favorable, so why spend $100 on something that will probably disappoint me. Why not put a new top on the original powder coated base that did hold up to the weather?

With just two days to go before leaving work for the last time I milled a few pieces of mahogany down to 3/8" for the top and three thicker pieces for the cross battens. I wrapped the pieces in shrink wrap and hastily stowed them in an RV compartment.

The only thing I had to purchase was a box of brass screws for $5. I used some epoxy as well, just to be sure.

The finished product! If the metal base lasts long enough the mahogany will turn a nice silver gray and should last a life time.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

New Base Camp & Sisters on the Fly

Just before breaking camp and leaving Maryland this morning I met some Sisters on the fly while chasing Charlie who did an escape act minutes before our departure. Throughout our stay here I have been admiring four vintage travel trailers that were beautifully hand painted and accessorized with a wonderful collection of retro accouterments straight out of your grandma's attic. It turns out these hardy gals are members of a nationwide club which you can read about here Link. I hope we cross paths with some of these club members again.

Look how tiny these travel trailers are. They don't make 'em like this any more!

We had a nice four days with son Ryan, and look forward to the next time we can get together. We are proud of him for pursuing his new career and creating a whole new life for himself here in Maryland.

Despite the marginal reviews we made camp at The North Fork Resort in Front Royal, Virginia which we are happy with so far. While many of the complaints are probably valid during peak season everything is fine here for our needs during the off season. The proximity to the Shenandoah region is so perfect that if all works out we might stay here for as long as a week.

When we first got here the Verizon air card signal was zero bars. This blog is being published thanks to a Wilson truckers' cell antenna I put on the roof shortly after we arrived.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Baltimore Harbor Walk

Yesterday we took a stroll of the harbor area in downtown Baltimore. It was a perfect, sunny fall day with temps. in the upper 60s. I know friends and family have been waiting to see photos of Ryan, who moved to California 8 years ago. So without further hesitation, please scroll down NOW!

Not the best picture of any of us but we will take more in better light.

Ryan in his new digs in Columbia Maryland, waiting for his furniture to be delivered, some day.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Happy Veterans Day

Today we fly the Service Flag (blue star flag) in honor of our son Zach, who has been in the Army for more than two years now. Zach, we are proud of you!

Yesterday we moved 160 miles further south to the Columbia, Maryland area where our son Ryan, lives. Despite the heavy I95 traffic in the Baltimore area the trip was uneventful, well except for the Garmin GPS error. Our Garmin is a truckers model which allows you to input the dimensions and weight of the RV. The Garmin plotted a route through a tunnel which has a 96" width restriction. We are 102" wide; helloooo. I am sure this tunnel has been 96" wide for some time now, so what's the problem? Though I am sure we would have fit, we changed our route at the last minute to avoid any possible violations.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Went to the Zoo, how 'bout you?

When we visited the Philadelphia Zoo this morning I didn't realize we were seeing Americas' oldest zoo. I was instantly more intrigued by the 19th century architecture than the animals themselves. Check out my first photo showing some of the 150 year old Victorian detail on one of the two gate houses flanking the main entrance.

Inside the Treehouse stands a giant rain forest tree trunk (note Martha in the lower right hand corner). This building too is a grand old Victorian structure that is now primarily used as a children's exhibit featuring larger than life whimsical animals children can climb on, under and into. It can also be leased for weddings (cost $2500)

We enjoyed the zoo animals too though many were staying in their shelters due to the blustery fall weather. Martha had hoped to see the baby giraffe born this summer but the African plains' animals don't like the cold. These penguins however, know how to soak up the warm afternoon sun.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Collecting Signs

The idea of collecting anything whatsoever in an RV is NOT a good one. Having collected many many things throughout my life the thought of not being able to do so was troubling me a bit until I got an idea today. Why not collect photos of interesting and funny signs and publish them here as we wander around the country? I'm sure we're going to see plenty so lets get started with this one we saw here in Trumbaersville:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Perkiomen Trail

Today we explored a small portion of the Perkiomen Trail system here in Green Lane, Pennsylvania. I doubt we saw more than 1% of this extensive trail system which extends 20 miles from Green lane at the north end down to Vally Forge at the southern end. What we did see was unspoiled natural surroundings on an exceptional fall day. The large network of trails is shared by hikers, bikers and horseback riders.

The Green Lane end of the trail is mostly a large reservoir shaped much like finger lakes similar to Candlewood Lake back in Connecticut.

This great blue heron swooped down from the sky and landed near us as if to greet us to the lake. He was so unafraid I was able to take this close up photo with a small point and shoot camera I keep in my hip pocket.

This late in the season we practically had the whole place to ourselves.

Monday, November 1, 2010

5 Star Camping

While discussing camping with my sister on Sunday, great adventurer and camper that she is, the question came up whether traveling in a 40' motorhome is really camping. I argued that since we don't stay in luxury hotels and spend our nights in campgrounds then we most certainly are campers. She countered with the fact that since we travel with all the modern conveniences and amenities how can we call it camping. Without further dispute, we agreed that if there is such a thing as 5 star camping then this is it.

My honey; 5 star camping.

I haven't stayed in many 5 star hotels where I had to worry about our water freezing and rush over to Lowe's for some insulation for our fresh water hose. It was 27 degrees last night and 24 degrees is forecast tonight. Time to move closer to the equator.

There was some time to play around today. I installed the anemometer so our weather station could be fully operational. Martha really misses the weather channel; this is the best I can do.

A Visit to Philly

What did we do on our first day of retirement? We went to a sports bar for lunch and drinks on a Sunday afternoon. Getting closer to nature will have to wait.

Everyone one was sooo friendly.

Martha played some tunes for all. Boy, have juke boxes changed.

Oh, to be 25 again.